Fading Kitten Syndrome

Picture of a newborn kitten

Kittens are much more sensitive compared to adults for a number of reasons, the main one being that they do not have a fully developed immune system. Therefore, they are much more likely to develop conditions that wouldn’t be life-threatening for adults but that could lead to very severe complications in their case.

In today’s article, we’re looking at fading kitten syndrome – from what it is to what it is caused by, the classic signs of fading kitten syndrome, and whether or not it can be treated.

What Is Fading Kitten Syndrome?

This is a whole complex of complications that could lead to the young cat’s death before they are even weaned from their mother’s milk. Most kittens die before the age of 9 weeks, although cases of some losing their life before the age of 12 weeks have been reported, too.

Fading kittens syndrome can also refer to a pet’s inability to develop properly, which can affect their body on the whole and make them more susceptible to infections and other health issues.

It is estimated that about 30% of all kittens that are born end up suffering from this syndrome. And while in most situations, it is lethal, knowing how to distinguish it from other diseases can make you understand that veterinary assistance is necessary right away – and can lead to you saving the kitten’s life.

But what does fading kitten syndrome look like? Usually, it is a combination of several different symptoms and developments, in that cats can quickly suffer from the following:

  • Hypothermia
  • Low blood sugar
  • Starvation because of maternal neglect
  • Eye, urinary, or digestive infections
  • Trauma leading to shock and death

What causes fading kitten syndrome?

This syndrome is not necessarily the result of maternal neglect, so your queen might not have to be a bad mother and ignore one of the kittens in order for them to develop this health issue.

Things can happen while the kittens are growing inside your cat’s belly, especially if the cat is given medications that could lead to serious side effects or if she undergoes some type of trauma.

There could also be some types of genetic conditions transmitted hereditarily from the parents. Kittens can be born with something relatively similar to what Down Syndrome is in humans, although not all of the clinical manifestations are the same. But because they are often unable to eat or drink water, they can quickly lose their life because of this.

We’ve listed some other possible causes in the sections below.

  • Weaning complications

The weaning process has to be more or less lengthy in order for it not to have any negative impact on the kitten’s health. However, sometimes the queen might get tired of her litter producing trauma on her mammary glands, for example, which is why she might force them into weaning earlier than it would be recommended.

Pet owners have to pay attention to whatever’s happening with the queen and her litter so as to intervene whenever this happens. You will have to feed the kittens cat milk and try to incorporate wet food into their diet so as to get them adjusted to other foods besides milk.

But when weaning happens too quickly, and there’s no one ensuring that the kittens are fed, they can, unfortunately, lose their life as a result of suffering from hypoglycemia.

  • Improper living conditions

Stray cats that have given birth outdoors usually have complications at birth and more difficult pregnancies all throughout, but they also can’t care for their litter properly as they have to go hunt for food all the time and get back and feed their offspring once every several hours.

If the newborns live in spaces where not enough heating is available, they could easily develop hypothermia which can also cause death. In this case, fading kitten syndrome would involve just this health issue and its consequences without any additional complications.

  • Health problems leading to dehydration

If you have ever been a cat owner before, you probably know how dangerous diarrhea and vomiting can be for your pet. Not only do cats not drink a lot of water in general, which automatically puts them at risk of becoming dehydrated, but they will also lose precious fluids because of their digestive distress.

Time is of the essence if you see that the kittens have begun experiencing diarrhea, as they can die in less than 24 hours. As such, we recommend taking them to the vet right away, without waiting to see what else happens.

  • Not enough milk

Some cats, especially those that are experiencing a pregnancy for the first time or those that are old and don’t have the same hormonal ‘charge’ in their bodies as their adult experienced counterparts, can have an inappropriate milk production.

Unfortunately, this means that not all kittens will have access to enough, so one or two out of the litter might remain behind weight-wise.

If the mothers are also not getting enough food or the right nutrients, the kittens will also suffer as a result because even though they might get enough milk, it might not be nutritious enough.

  • Any infection

Most vets recommend keeping the kittens away from other animals for a period of at least several weeks after they were born.

It is important for you to ensure this because besides their mother, any other animal can potentially carry and transmit dangerous pathogens to the young cats – and as previously mentioned, their little bodies aren’t yet equipped with the mechanisms that will enable them to somewhat put up with the abuse of a bacterium, virus, or even a fungus.

Infections are more likely to be developed by kittens that are stressed, live in improper and unhygienic conditions, or that already have a low birth weight or were born with a congenital health issue.

several newborn kittens

Symptoms of fading kitten syndrome

Most fading kitten syndrome symptoms tend to vary a lot from one animal to another. As you might have noticed from the previous section, the causes can be quite diverse, so not all animals are going to experience the same clinical signs.

However, some are somewhat universal, so they are more likely to show up more frequently compared to others. Here are several examples:

  • Hypothermia
  • Straining to breathe
  • Lethargy / Weakness
  • The inability to drink or eat milk or canned food
  • Any nasal or ocular discharge
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

When it comes to fading kitten syndrome age is a factor that can influence all of the symptoms that we have noted above.

Some kittens can die right after being born or after feeding once or twice simply because their weight was much below the normal threshold. And while many kittens are born with some immunity inherited from their mother, the rule does not apply to all – especially the frailer ones.

Because kittens are effectively vulnerable (and they also can’t see, either) with regard to everything in their environment, they are also incapable of searching for food or seeking out places that are warmer. So, it is your responsibility as a pet owner to ensure that the temperature in their living environment never drops to potentially dangerous limits.

When hypothermia and low blood sugar appear at the same time, they can cause death in just 3-5 hours if the kitten is already thin and sensitive to pretty much anything.

This is why many kittens die by the time pet parents end up with them at the veterinary clinic. So, whenever you notice any symptom that you feel could be something to feel worried about, get in touch with your vet immediately.

Fading kitten protocol therapy

If you are wondering how to save a fading kitten, you should not believe that you can do it on your own. In case you do not have any previous experience handling kittens and caring for them, you might not be equipped with the knowledge and equipment for the task.

Your veterinarian will provide you with the information you need for caring for the litter, but sometimes it might not be enough, or you might panic and not know what you can do.

If that happens, your best bet would be to take your kittens to the animal hospital, especially if it is in your area and you’re likely to drive for less than 30 minutes.

The vet will first keep the kittens warm by either using an electric blanket or bottles filled with hot water and covered by blankets or towels. They will then proceed to perform a physical examination while the hypothermia is being resolved.

Until the veterinarian finds out exactly what the cause of the syndrome is, they will put the kittens on supportive therapy. If the cats are very small, administering fluids through an IV might be challenging (simply because they have such tiny vessels), so they might receive fluids subcutaneously instead.

They will also be given warm cat milk and kept in an overall warm and safe environment until a protocol is created.

Every kitten is different so based on their symptoms and the diagnosis, they might receive various medications. For cats that have somehow contracted viral diseases such as Feline Coronavirus, Herpesvirus, or Calicivirus, the prognosis is going to be reserved. These diseases are challenging to treat in healthy adults, so they are much more severe in kittens.

As for how to cure fading kitten syndrome at home, it also depends on how severe it is. If the animal has already developed hypothermia and has low blood sugar, the chances of you being able to help them recover are slim to none.

The Internet might suggest that you use sugar water for treating fading kitten syndrome, and while that’s not a bad piece of advice per se since hypoglycemia is an issue, it’s not going to necessarily save your kitten’s life.

If you feel that it would make a difference, giving them warm cat milk with a bit of sugar using a syringe might be a better idea.

Frequently asked questions

How long does fading kitten syndrome last?

This is a complicated question with a complicated answer. In some cases, it can last for a few hours until the kittens lose their life. In other cases, it can last for a couple of days while they are being treated and have somewhat long-lasting effects over a period of a few weeks after that.

When does fading kitten syndrome happen?

This syndrome occurs before the kittens reach the age of 12 weeks. Some can develop it right after being born, while others could experience its clinical manifestations between the age of 6 weeks to 9 weeks.

Can a kitten survive fading kitten syndrome?

It depends on every cat in part. Not all of them are as lucky, so we can’t give you a clear answer to this question. If the kitten gets treated very quickly, they might have a pretty good chance of surviving.

Is fading kitten syndrome in older kittens common?

No. Most cats over the age of 12 weeks have been weaned and have become fairly independent, so they are capable of searching for warm places and also feeding themselves. Once they are also vaccinated against potentially lethal viral diseases, they have an even lower risk of developing this syndrome.

Is fading kitten syndrome painful?

This also depends on its causes and the symptoms it leads to. But in most cases, the answer to this question is yes. Kittens that are lethargic, hypothermic, hypoglycemic, or are suffering from diarrhea or vomiting can experience pain, and sometimes it can be quite severe.

Prevention

Can fading kitten syndrome be prevented? To some extent, yes.

Not all kittens can be saved, especially those that are suffering from infections or were born with genetic conditions – but some can. You should make sure that the litter is well-hydrated, well-fed, and has an optimal weight, especially during the first few days of their life.

You also have to ensure that the kittens are eliminating properly. Those that are not ‘going to the bathroom’ as they are supposed to might accumulate toxins in their bodies as a result of constipation. The same goes for those that might experience diarrhea, as they can become dehydrated and fast.

Caring for newborn kittens can be quite challenging, so it takes time, effort, and a lot of attention and stress. Ask your vet what you should always keep in your home – from cat milk to syringes and feeders.

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